LEADERS in Group G of the ongoing AFC Cup battle it out as Ceres-Negros FC and Persija Jakarta FC of Indonesia play today at the Panaad Park and Stadium in Bacolod City.

The number one and two teams in the grouping at the moment, respectively, Ceres (2-0-0) and Persija Jakarta (1-1-0) shoot for an important win that would propel their causes in the group stage of the tournament.

The “Busmen” are coming off a 3-1 win over Becamex Binh Duong, 3-1, in Vietnam on March 12 to keep its slate unblemished.

Ceres got a great performance from Spaniard Bienvenido Maranon, who scored a hat trick last time around to tow his team to its second straight victory and solo leadership in the grouping with six points.

Mr. Maranon silenced the home team early as he out-witted Becamex goalkeeper Bui Tan Truong, stealing the ball from the latter in the host’s penalty area and tapping it into the net for a Ceres goal and the lead, 1-0, in the 26th minute.

Becamex tried to get back the point for the rest of the opening half, creating some solid opportunities to score, but Ceres continued to hold sway by the halftime break.

At the start of the second half both teams picked up the pace, looking to establish the momentum they needed to seize control of the match.

The home team got the first dent in the second half when Brazilian Wander Luiz pulled Becamex even when he volleyed the ball inside the net in the 72nd minute.

Ceres immediately regrouped though with Mr. Maranon scoring his second goal two minutes later to give back the lead to his team, 2-1.

Mr. Maranon and the Busmen continued to put pressure on Becamex and created further separation, 3-1, in the 78th minute when the Spaniard completed his hat trick with help from teammate OJ Porteria.

Becamex scrambled to make a late comeback on the lead of Wander Luiz but nothing would come of it as Ceres fought off everything that was thrown at it down the stretch en route to the victory.

For today’s game, Ceres will feature Philippine national players Stephan Schrock, Kevin Ingreso, and Alvaro Silva.

Persija Jakarta, meanwhile, is also unbeaten after goalless draw against Becamex on Feb. 26 in the Gelora Bung Karno while it is still one-hundred percent in away games after dispatching of Shan United FC, 3-1, in Yangon on March 12 after conceding early to secure full three points.

As per tournament format, the top teams in each of the groupings earn an automatic spot in the Zonal semifinals of the tournament.

Today’s fixture between Ceres and Persija Jakarta kicks off at 730 p.m. and will be shown live on 5PLUS and Fox Sports 1. Livestream will also be available via the 5PLUS Website and ESPN5 YouTube channel the Philippines. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo